Emergency Vehicles Right-of-Way: The "Move Over" Law & Yielding CorrectlyUpdated Nov. 9, 2021
The law states that emergency response vehicles should have right-of-way over all other road users, when sounding a siren or displaying flashing lights. In most cases, police cars, ambulances and fire engines will use both these devices to warn other motorists that they must yield.
Every second counts when responding to an emergency. People’s lives may depend on your cooperation when an emergency vehicle needs to pass. Here, we explain how you must yield the right-of-way in different situations, if an emergency vehicle with active lights or sirens is approaching.
Emergency vehicles approaching from behind
If you hear sirens and see flashing lights in your rear-view or side-view mirrors, the emergency vehicle you must yield to is likely traveling in the same direction as your car and seeking to occupy the same space on the roadway. In this situation, you must yield the right-of-way by pulling over as close to the right-hand edge of the road as possible. Try to remain parallel to the curb and stop completely while you wait for the emergency vehicle to pass.
Keep your eyes on other motorists and maneuver in a controlled manner as you pull over, as they will also be seeking to yield to the emergency vehicle. If there is not enough space on the road for you to move right up to the curb, simply pull over as far as you can to leave the maximum amount of room for the emergency responder to pass.
When the emergency vehicle has successfully passed you, pull back into your lane and resume your course of travel with caution. Most states have traffic laws stating a minimum distance that drivers must keep behind emergency vehicles with active lights and sirens.
- In New Jersey and California, drivers must remain at least 300 feet behind emergency vehicles.
- In Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania, drivers must remain at least 500 feet behind emergency vehicles.
Read up on emergency vehicles in your driving manual to find out the minimum following distance in your state. Never follow an emergency vehicle too closely or drive in its wake to get ahead of other traffic.
Emergency vehicles approaching from the front
If an emergency vehicle with active flashing lights and sirens is approaching from the opposite direction on the other side of the road, you must still yield the right-of-way. Pull over to the right curb and stop, just as you would if the vehicle were traveling in the same direction. It is possible that drivers on the other side of the road will not be able to pull over fully, in which case the emergency vehicle driver may need to use the center of the road or the lane you are occupying to pass through.
Yielding to emergency vehicles at intersections
You must yield the right-of-way to emergency response vehicles with active lights or sirens when they approach you at intersections. If you have not yet entered the intersection and the vehicle is approaching in your lane, move over to the right side of the roadway. If the vehicle is not in your lane, you may be able to hold your position without blocking them.
Do not yield to the emergency vehicle by pulling forward onto the intersection, as stopping on an intersection is illegal. Drivers who are already on the intersection as an emergency vehicle approaches must yield the right-of-way by pulling out of the intersection and stopping their car on the right-hand side of the roadway.
Watch emergency vehicles closely
Always keep an eye on emergency vehicles as they approach and pass you, to make sure no part of your vehicle is obstructing their path of travel. The driver of the emergency vehicle may issue instructions to vehicles around them with gestures, or a loudspeaker. Make sure you follow all instructions given by emergency vehicle drivers, as they have a clearer view of the roadway and will be able to determine the best course of action for vehicles yielding the right-of-way.
The Move Over law
Most states have some version of this traffic law, which requires motorists to move out of any lane adjacent to an emergency response area if road conditions allow it. In Texas and several other states, this rule is known as the “Move Over” law, though it may go by a different name in your state. For instance, Pennsylvania drivers will know this as the “Steer Clear” law. Check your own driver’s handbook for details. Penalties for violating the move over law vary around the United States but are often severe.
So, what qualifies as an emergency response area? This refers to any space on or near a roadway where work is being conducted by police, medical personnel, firefighters, coroners, rescue personnel, recovery drivers or any other type of emergency responder. As operating near traffic puts emergency response workers at significant risk of harm, other motorists must reduce their speed and clear the lane immediately adjacent to the work area. If there is not enough space on the road for you to merge into a more distant lane, reduce your speed to a crawl and move over as far as you can within your lane.
Certain state laws specify a speed limit for drivers who cannot vacate the lane next to the emergency response area. In Texas, this limit is 20 mph below the posted speed limit, or 5 mph if the posted speed limit is 25 mph or lower. Make sure you study all information in your manual relating to moving over or slowing down for emergency responders. Failing to abide by the rules may result in a sizable fine.
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